"Suburban World" is about compelling stories, not cul-de-sacs

Of the 417 students in my graduating class at Austin High School, Brad Zellar wasn’t one I knew very well. He was a caste above me socially, the student council president. I don’t know if we said a word to each other in four years. Gregarious and handsome, he appears six times in our senior yearbook, not counting the front and back covers. In one photo, he is crowning the homecoming queen. I had no idea he was smart.

Then one day I heard Brad’s voice on Minnesota Public Radio, and I called in to say hi. He was the owner of a bookstore at the time, and he was recommending gift books for the holidays. I don’t recall their titles, but I do remember thinking, “He likes the dark stuff.”

Brad Zellar with high school teachers
Kermeth Northwick and Richard Nicolai

After that, I started noticing Brad’s byline here and there, in City Pages, or the Twin Cities Reader, perhaps, and The Rake. He wrote book reviews, articles about baseball, and social commentaries, all with a bit of an edge.

So when I got the notice from the Minnesota History Center about Suburban World: The Norling Photos, an exhibit based on my high school classmate’s new book, I called up friends from Austin, along with my parents and said, “Zellar is writing about suburbia? Weird. Let’s show up for this.” I’m glad we did.  read more »

What to see: The Piano Lesson, Third, and 9 Parts of Desire

Yes, we’re supposed to get more snow, but please don’t let the weekend pass without getting out to a show! The best use of two hours between now and March 30, in my book, is either August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson at Penumbra Theatre, or Wendy Wasserstein’s Third at the Guthrie. If you can, see them both.

The Piano Lesson is so compelling, I saw it twice. It’s the story of a brother and sister who fight over a piano that has intricate carvings depicting their family’s journey through slavery. At issue is whether to sell the piano to fund the family’s welfare today, or keep it out of respect for the price that was paid in human life to smuggle it out of a slave owner’s house. Typical of August Wilson plays, there are no set changes, and the spiritual side of life meets the practical in surprising ways. Under the direction of Lou Bellamy, the cast and the chilling light/sound presence of a ghost will draw you into the family’s living room and keep you entertained there until the final, whispered, “Thank you.”  read more »

Do we still need to celebrate Black History Month?

Only after I had decided that my first show in February would focus on Black History Month did I start to wonder why we still observe such a thing in this melting pot of a country. So I asked you on the air: Is Black History Month necessary? Does it serve to remind us that black history is a vital and inseparable part of American history? Or does it relegate black history to a 28-day spotlight and underline racial divisiveness? Do we make a big deal of Black History Month so the white folks won’t feel guilty?

Your calls were insightful and much appreciated. Guest T. Mychael Rambo and I heard from listeners from Anoka to Faribault. We heard from a couple of history teachers. And we heard from callers whose accents said “first generation immigrant.” While opinions differed as to whether Black History Month has a place in our schools and our communities (most said yes, a few sided with actor Morgan Freeman and said no), the concensus was clear that Americans of all ancestries ought to be celebrated equally as contributors to our cultural cornucopia. To express your opinion, click “Add new comment” below.

After all that intensity, T. Mychael and I started talking snacks and discovered that we both secretly love Arby’s roast beef sandwiches. And those bacon- and cheese-loaded Potato Bites—yum! How convenient of them to situate a restaurant so close to the KTLK studio.

For a listing of the Black History Month programs and activities we talked about on the show, and for listings from past shows, click here.

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